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Refugees hiding in swamps face illness, death as South Sudan blocks humanitarian aid

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

South Sudanese hiding in malaria-infested swamps are sure to die from malaria and respiratory illnesses unless the government allows humanitarian aid in. That's the stern prediction as offered by the medical charity group Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said last week.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Some 120,000 people are estimated to have fled into the bush because of fighting between the government and rebels in South Sudan's troubled Jonglei state last month. MSF says that the army has refused to allow or facilitate the provision of emergency medicines, food and water to the displaced.

"MSF knows from years of experience in Jonglei that without medical care people will not be able to live for long and will die of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases," MSF's director of operations, Bart Janssens, said in a statement. "Immediate action is required to avoid catastrophe."

Jonglei has been the site of ongoing violence since March, when the army launched an offensive against rebels. Leader David Yau Yau says that he and the rebels want to end corruption and the dominance of the ruling party.

In the meantime, the rainy season has begun and the area where people are hiding will flood. The rains will bring malarial mosquitoes, making those sleeping out in the open easy targets.

"This will not be a place where people can remain alive," Janssens said.

Aid agencies evacuated from the town of Pibor last month, days before security forces went on the rampage, looting several agency compounds and homes, including MSF's hospital. The army said officers who had defected from a state wildlife force caused the damage, denying regular soldiers were behind the attack.

The town emptied of civilians, with government soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers remaining behind.

The MSF maintains that the government is denying humanitarian access to the bush where most people are hiding.

"Repeated requests by MSF to the authorities to travel outside these towns [Pibor and Gumruk] to deliver assistance to the people hiding in the bush have been denied," the statement said.

"Recently MSF was informed unambiguously by the SPLA [army] commanders that the organization would not be permitted to go to opposition held territory to provide medical care, or that travel into the bush to conduct assessments of the needs of displaced people would not be permitted until such time as the government has 'control' of the area," it added.

Adding to the situation is the fact that people are too scared to walk to town to seek medical care because they fear being confused with rebels or caught in the crossfire, MSF said. The population of Pibor is predominantly Murle, the same ethnic group as rebel leader Yau Yau.

The Murle are a minority who have been marginalized and also embroiled in a long-running conflict over land and cattle with the Lou Nuer, which has a strong presence in the army.

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